As protests in Taiwan escalated against a cross-strait trade pact pushed through the legislature by Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) lawmakers, with demonstrators storming the Executive Yuan on Sunday, a group of Taiwanese students, artists and educators has been fast afoot in New York raising awareness about the political turmoil engulfing Taiwan nearly 12,000km away.
Around 150 protesters dressed in black and shouting “defend democracy” and “protect Taiwan,” led by Hsu Bo-cheng (許伯丞), a protest leader, demonstrated Friday afternoon outside the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Manhattan, condemning the trade agreement, which opponents say will give China greater influence over Taiwan’s economy, and the lack of transparency in bringing it to a vote. Some group members also attended the Mayday concert on Saturday at Madison Square Garden in midtown Manhattan, where they assembled outside before the concert, waving Republic of China flags and holding up banners denouncing the trade pact.
At Friday’s demonstration, three days after hundreds of students occupied the Legislative Yuan, Liu Wen (劉文), a City University of New York doctoral candidate and one of the group organizers, delivered a petition to TECO Deputy Director Fan Kuo-shu (范國樞), who appeared outside briefly around 3:30pm to accept the letter in front of protesters holding placards and sunflowers. The petition demanded that President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration renegotiate the cross-strait service trade agreement, establish an oversight body to monitor negotiations, and oppose unequal treaties to protect Taiwan’s right to free speech and a free press.
Liu said Fan did not comment when handed the petition, other than to say that protesters needed to be corralled behind metal barricades, and that they could not use a bullhorn because they lacked a special permit.
The New York protests, on a seasonably mild day after a winter dominated by bone-chilling temperatures, was one of a number of similar demonstrations held throughout the US, Canada and Europe in the days after Taiwanese students seized the Legislative chambers on March 18. Student protests in Taiwan quickly accelerated after KMT legislator Chang Ching-chung (張慶忠) hastily declared a day earlier that the trade agreement had been considered reviewed and submitted for a final vote.
Demonstrators, who marched down Fifth Avenue to Union Square, a popular protest venue in lower Manhattan, alternated between Mandarin slogans like “Repeal the trade agreement” (退回服貿) and English ones likes “Taiwan is not for sale” while handing out English-language flyers to passersby, a mix of tourists and New Yorkers, that explained the current controversy. The flyers echoed similar criticism voiced by opponents who say the pact would open up more than 64 Taiwanese service industries to Chinese investment, giving China an unfair advantage to operate in Taiwan’s largely transparent business environment and threatening Taiwan’s national security.
Anne Lin, a doctoral student at State University of New York at Albany who marched Friday, said Ma should apologize to students and “arrange a more transparent discussion” of the trade pact. “[Ma should] at least be able to open discussions among professional groups, among non-governmental academics to discuss the effects and influence of the agreement on local economic development,” Lin said.